Should I skip breakfast before exercise?
Ask Dr Libby
Q: Is it best to not eat breakfast before exercising in the morning if I want to lose weight? Kirsten
A: I love this question because it’s a great example of how important it is to tune in to what is best for your own body rather than simply following generic advice.
The rationale for exercising in a ‘‘fasted’’ state is that the lower carbohydrate (glucose) availability will theoretically lead the body to burn more body fat as fuel, leading to greater body fat loss.
However, scientific studies haven’t consistently demonstrated that this is the case. And while it may seem like a simple question there are many variables that play a role in whether it is body fat or glucose that predominantly fuels your movement, such as the duration and intensity of your workout and the type of movement you are performing.
The human body is incredibly good at adapting too, so your way of eating and your exercise Email your questions for Dr Libby to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note, only a selection of questions can be answered.
history can also play a role in the proportions of glucose and fat used to fuel your movement at different intensities.
Assuming you are exercising for no more than a hour at a moderate to high intensity, your muscles will have sufficient fuel reserves, so whether or not you eat beforehand really comes down to personal preference (and in some cases, your athletic or performance goals).
For example, although you may have enough fuel stored in your muscles to complete your workout, exercising on an empty stomach may leave you feeling tired, easily fatigued or even ill.
This may mean you don’t enjoy the physical activity or that you aren’t able to progress and improve (which can be important for providing a sense of achievement and satisfaction) – and enjoyment is so critical to making long-term movement part of our lifestyles.
Conversely, you may find the opposite is true for you – eating too soon before exercising leads some people to feel sluggish and they may experience stomach upset or other digestive symptoms. As you can imagine, this also impacts on the ability to finish the workout as planned and whether it is a positive experience or not.
So, Kirsten, I encourage you to notice how eating a nutritious breakfast before your morning exercise makes you feel. Do you feel energised and primed to move, or does it leave you feeling uncomfortable or sluggish?
I also cannot encourage you enough to explore and shift your mindset – rather than focusing on what will produce the best (short term) weight loss results, focus on nourishing and supporting your body to move in a way that you enjoy and that feels good for you.
You don’t have to lose weight to be healthy, you actually have to be healthy to lose weight. Really think about that. Weight loss is a natural byproduct of taking even better care of yourself (if body fat loss is appropriate for your body shape and size).
So base your choices about how you eat, drink and move on nourishment – your body is your best barometer so listen to the messages it is sending you and do what works best for you.
❚ Dr Libby is a nutritional biochemist, best-selling author and speaker. The advice contained in this column is not intended to be a substitute for direct, personalised advice from a health professional. See drlibby.com
Eating before or after exercise is very much a personal choice - know your body and how it feels to decide what is best for you.